Lausanne is an ancient city, full of historical gems. The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Lausanne is often cited as Switzerland’s greatest example of Gothic architecture, replete with details and flourishes characteristic of the movement, and, organ aside, is essential viewing for anyone visiting the region.
Discovering the Cathedral
Construction on the cathedral began the best part of a millennium ago, in 1175, and while the church was consecrated a century later, it actually still stands incomplete to this day. The cathedral’s towers are visible from a distance, while on closer inspection the intricate detail around the church’s immense portals begins to dominate the view.
The tower is of special historic significance, as it was where the night watchman sat, and still sits. Lausanne is Europe’s only city to continue the medieval tradition of employing a night watchman to sit at the top of the tower, calling out the hour throughout the night.
Passing the flying buttresses and entering one of the aforementioned portals, you’ll find yourself in the massive, beautifully vaulted interior of the cathedral. In an artistic tragedy, most of the art and decoration that once adorned the interior of the cathedral has long since been stripped out, but as of 2003 it now contains one of the world’s most fascinating organs.
Lausanne’s organ has seven thousand pipes, weighs forty tonnes, and was built over 150,000 hours at a cost of six million Swiss francs. Among a number of other “world’s first” records, it is the first organ in the world to have the Classical French, symphonic French, Romantic French and north German Baroque styles all in one instrument, giving it unprecedented versatility, and its construction required the involvement of six countries.
One of the fascinating things about this organ is that, while the church organ is almost synonymous with antiquity, the Lausanne organ is a direct result of the advances made in communication technology: built by an American company, designed by the Italian designer (who has also worked for Lamborghini) and mounted in a Swiss cathedral, without the speed, convenience and almost unlimited potential for sending large amounts of detailed information delivered by the advent of high speed internet, the organ could never have come to fruition. Lausanne cathedral’s organ therefore represents the use of contemporary technology to construct a peerless example of a deeply traditional instrument.
Classical repertoire for organ and orchestra is commonly performed across Switzerland, and the construction of this cathedral was in part to provide a space for the performance of such pieces in Lausanne. The organ, while being a unique and fantastic instrument, is more than a symbol of mechanical, financial or artistic prowess: it is a deeply practical addition to the city, allowing organ repertoire in any one of the four styles mentioned above, with or without orchestra, to be performed in a wonderful Gothic setting.
How to Get to Lausanne
Lausanne has excellent connections with Geneva Airport: take the IR train towards Luzern, and in two stops you’ll be at Lausanne. If you’re driving or taking a Geneva airport taxi, take the A1, E25 or E26. Either trip takes around forty-five minutes.
Where to Stay
Lausanne Guesthouse – for low cost, high quality accommodations for those planning to spend their days out exploring, look no further than the Lausanne Guesthouse. Offering a selection of room types, all excellent value, it also gives holidaymakers the chance to spend some time on the terrace or in the garden, where they even have access to a barbecue.
Discovery Hotel – highly contemporary and very elegant, the space-themed Discovery is a well-priced treat for those looking for slightly more space and private bathrooms. Expect clean cut décor, dominated by whites and blues, with a bus stop only two minutes away from the hotel.
Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel – those seeking luxurious accommodations should search no further than the Beau-Rivage. Top notch service, a quality restaurant, and beautiful, perfectly looked after rooms make for a near-unbeatable hotel experience. The rooms are furnished with antiques and top quality reproductions, and the rooms look out over the mountains as well as Lake Geneva.